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Roland AIRA Modular: the insider’s guide

Roland AIRA Modular: the insider’s guide

From a series of rumours, leaked photos and eventually teaser videos, AIRA emerged onto the scene in early 2014. The industry had been speculating for some time that Roland would re-release some of their most iconic products from years gone by like the TR808, TR909 and TB303. Rather than re-release or reproduce, Roland responded with something very special and totally unique instead. AIRA; a family of products that retain the sound, the behaviour and the programming style of the original machines while offering something completely new at the same time.

Dave Gardner

Dave Gardner is Red Dog Music’s resident Roland Guru. He knows every bit of Roland and Boss gear inside and out. Just another reason to shop at #thefriendlymusicstore

We now have the TR8 Drum machine which has a TR808 and TR909 built in, the TB3 which is a programmable bass synth in the style of the TB303, a VT3 vocal designer and the System 1 “Plug Out” synthesiser; a synth that lets you load classic Roland analogue synths into it from a computer. All these amazing devices can be brought together using the new MX1 mix performer which is a mad cross between a mixing desk and a musical instrument. However, there is one little device which was launched very quietly and didn’t really seem to be quite as interesting as the others. This device was the SBX1 Sync Box.

The SBX1 allows you to synchronise multiple devices together, not only via MIDI but also over CV/Gate and DIN SYNC connections. This means that you can get your newer MIDI devices to talk to and sequence old analogue gear. This immediately got synth heads asking questions like “are Roland planning on making analogue gear?” and “When are Roland going to make some modular synths again?”. The answer to these questions respectively are “YES!!” and “NOW!!”

At the 2015 Frankfurt Music Messe, Roland launched AIRA Modular; a series of modules designed to fit into Eurorack Modular set ups. We have the System-1M, a semi modular version of the original AIRA System 1, 4 modular digital effects units and a completely analogue series of modules. Let’s take a closer look at each of these below.


PRICE: £449


The System-1M is a really versatile and friendly way to start getting into modular synthesis. It is a System 1 without the keyboard and scatter wheel but with the addition of patching options. In fact, there are 19 different CV/Gate connections meaning you can experiment straight away by patching different parts of the synth together or connect to other modular gear. For example I could use the System 1’s ultra-fast LFO section to modulate the output from any number of third party VCOs. With addition of the “Plug Out” capability, we can integrate the sounds and behaviour of classic Roland Synthesisers like the SH2 or SH101 into a modular set up. Being able to patch sounds in this way opens up so many sonic possibilities and System 1M makes it easy. Practically speaking, this clever wee module can set up anywhere. It can be a desktop module or fit into a standard 19” rack and crucially, it will also fit into a Eurorack and even run off Eurorack power as well as connecting to other modules.


PRICE: £219


Everyone loves a good bit crushing distortion effect but the BITRAZER takes things a bit further, not only through the effects it produces but also how these effects can be manipulated and controlled. As one of four new modular effects from Roland, the BITRAZER acts as a crushing effect. The sample rate can be adjusted and reduced to create a strange, almost ring modulated effect while the bit rate can be reduced to completely destroy the sound. Built in there’s also a filter which will work in high pass or low pass modes. All of the parameters can modulated externally via patching with other devices. The sneaky bonus behind the scenes is a remote input. This means that a smartphone or PC can be connected and via an app, the module can be completely reconfigured via a mini modular style graphical user interface. By dragging in modules and patching in the software we create totally new ways of processing the signal flow. In a similar way the System 1M the AIRA modular effects can be mounted into a Eurorack system or used as a standalone desktop module. They even have a USB Audio interface built in to record your effected signal instantly to computer.


PRICE: £219


The DEMORA modular effect is an extremely high resolution delay which is fully tweakable via the large controls on board. It has a very smooth and warm sound which can be instantly mangled or frozen with the buffer hold function. What makes it unique is its special delay algorithm which is unlike anything I’ve heard before. Delay times range from 10ms all the way up to 10 seconds ensuring your echos can anything you want them to be! Like all the AIRA modular effects it features a 24bit/96KHz output over USB and 24 Bit knobs which mean you have over 16 million steps on the parameter controls. It can also be remote controlled and features 15 additional sub modules in the software like extra filters, LFOs and MIDI to Gate conversion.


PRICE: £219


Combining the fun of a looper device and madness of a scatter effect, the SCOOPER module is unlike anything else. The Scatter effect was first brought in to light in the current AIRA machines like the TR8 and TB3 and is basically a rhythmic parameter mangler which takes multiple things and chops, reverses, pitch shifts and filters at varying intensities depending on what your controls are set to. The result is a granular like, glitch explosion of noises! Imagine being able to very quickly and easily sample and loop your synth sound and then within the same module smash it to pieces with the Scatter function! Feed in a signal from anywhere in your set up and manipulate with different types of Scatter while shifting the pitch and processing with the software submodules.


PRICE: £219


The TORCIDO is a distortion effect designed to handle the huge range of sounds and tones that modular synths produce. In order to this it is really versatile and has high resolution controls that let you get everything from a nice, tasty tube overdrive right through to a screaming, angular distortion. Patch in other gear with the included hiugh quality patch cables and use it to modulate the distortion amount or tube warmth. This can be used in your rack but equally, it’s a great way of breathing a bit of new life into an old synth as, like all the AIRA modules, can be used as a standalone too!



system 500

Remember when synthesisers cost as much as a house? The Roland System 700 was one of these beasts and this was the last modular synthesiser that Roland produced. Fortunately, in recent years, modular synthesiser systems have become more and more affordable and accessible. Modules can be built from scratch, from kits and bought, ready to go and a unusual but exceptionally creative industry and culture has arisen. Inspired by this, Roland have decided to introduce the System 500 modules. Not a huge amount is known about these yet but they are being built in partnership with the awesome Malekko Heavy Industry. There are 5 modules in total and they consist of the 512 Dual VCO, 520 Dual VCF, the 540 LFO, the 530 VCA and the 572 Multi FX unit. From the interesting Sonic State interview with Josh from Malekko, he explains the thought and design process behind these modules as well as showing off some of the more interesting patching options and giving a quick demo.

I can’t wait to get a proper shot on these when they land. I tried out some prototypes a couple of months ago and they were amazing and, as someone who is very new to modular, seemed fairly easy to set up. Please keep an eye on the Red Dog Website for more exciting modular-shaped news over the next few weeks!

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Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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